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The Commish is not just one single person, it is a real and true thought experiment of many different entities. That's also why the Commish has no preferred pronouns and you

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can call the Commish anything and anyway you want. Makes no difference to the Commish. The Commish lives in the minds of all tennis professionals, tennis players, tennis organizers, everyone with a clear and logical thought pocess. 

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HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

By The Commish

If the game of tennis continues on its current trajectory, it will soon become irrelevant. It’s well beyond the golden age and quickly fallen off the bell shape of the curve. At this pace, tennis will become an inconsequential pursuit and move from a niche sport to a novelty.  Yes, Houston, we have a problem, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the issues. However, it may take a team of scientists to fix it.

With this many issues…. you’ll need a subscription 

Screens, screens everywhere.  Most of us now have an iPhone 13, a tablet, laptop, kindle, Gameboy advanced, play station, and a 60-inch TV.   And we know how to use them. According to Scripps Health, Americans spend on average 11 hours a day in screen time.  Astonishing! This may be somewhat pandemic skewed and a lot of us stare at screens at work, but wow, no wonder the life expectancy of Americans is falling.  Screens 1- tennis- love.

E-Sports & MMO Games

Popularity for these activities has exploded and is estimated at 454 million participants worldwide. Before the year 2000, it was mostly amateurs but now professionals and live-streaming events are common.  Let that sink in, you are not playing a video game, you are watching someone else play a video game.  Tennis 0-2.

Vaping & Pot Shops

According to Single Care 20% of 18-to-29-year old’s use vaping products.  Very Well Mind reports 37% of teens used marijuana in the past month.  That might have put a dampener on those spider drills and wind sprints tennis players need to do?  Not to mention the motivation needed to excel in tennis.   Love-3.

USTA, You’re Not Helping

Putting on a tournament is good and the revenue is a lot, but net/net are you doing it?  Speaking of net, Net Generation….really?  This was a flawed concept from the jump. First, people are confused. Was this Next Generation, the latest or forthcoming stage in development? Was it NextGen the health care company or the computer-animated science fiction action film? And besides, the net is something we always avoid in tennis, i.e., hitting into the net.

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The net is a barrier to be avoided at all costs. But besides that bad name, the program is just bad. Poor coaches being paid low wages producing a weak product that has led to the “leaky bucket” of player retention. (TIA’s words).  USTA Player Development operates on a huge budget with few tangible results.

 

Your local USTA sectional office operates in a bunkered down, inaccessible fortress. They have disdain for local junior tournaments and favor the easy money of USTA adult leagues, (which someone else operates).  The USTA’s bloated salaries are leading the way in creating inequality in the US. Teaching pros and club managers work hard and are lucky to make 100K a year, some a lot less. USTA employees make twice to three times that, but contribute little. And please get out of the way of training new coaches. You’re wasting their time, leaving them ill-prepared and getting in the lane of the USPTA and USPTR where the real talent is. And, the Commish is just getting started. Tennis is down 4 games and in trouble of being bageled.

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Tennis, we have a football problem    

The Commish loves football. You love football. But tennis has a football problem. College Tennis has been hammered with more program cuts than any other sport in NCAA history.  Yes, the numbers are a bit distorted because so many colleges and universities had tennis programs.  

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But NCAA schools give 85 scholarships to football players, men’s tennis 4.5. (And 30% of those go to foreign players). Yes, the Commish understands that football is the cash cow and that tennis generates no income-only expenses. 

 

But football is in an arms race for the millions in TV contracts, corporate sponsors, gate receipts, concessions, alumni donations, and bowl game revenue.  In that arms race, USC pays Lincoln Riley $10 million a season, Nick Saben, Alabama gets $9.7 million and LSU pays Brian Kelly $9.5 million. And consider the money they’re spending on facilities. 

 

So, to stay in the arms race and keep up with the Joneses you have to spend like the Joneses.  But here’s the rub. Out of the 65 top schools, only 25 schools earned a profit according to the NCAA. That’s 38%. 

 

So, every university is paying top dollar for head coaches, what about assistant coaches, strength coaches, and physios... and on and on.  And the facilities get more lavish with state-of-the-art weight rooms and practice facilities while the tennis courts go unsurfaced. 

So, what about 65 scholarships for football? That’s three scholarships for every position on both sides of the ball.  How about a limit of 5 million per season coach? Or how about no more than 10 times the salary of the college president who makes $400,000 annually?  Lowly tennis, you don’t stand a chance in this arms race. So consequently, fewer young talented athletes are going into tennis, the opportunity is just not there. Love-5. It’s getting ugly.

Pickleball (Pickles) Not Just a Dog on Bainbridge Island Anymore  

Yes, pickleball is continuing to sweep the country and growing like an out-of-control wildfire.  But pickleball is not the enemy. The Commish loves pickleball. It’s growing at a rate of 20% per year. It’s tennis’ reaction to this existential threat that’s the issue. Ever hear of the old saying that you’ve got to fight fire with fire? Well, if pickleball is growing by 20% per year, tennis has to grow at 20% a year. If pickleball is converting 20 tennis courts per year, then tennis has to build 20 new courts a year.

 

The Commish hears you saying that tennis has been flat for a least seven years.  And that’s the point of this article!  Do something, somebody, anybody. The Commish is not just the bearer of bad news. Watch this space next month for the Commish’s solutions.  However, buried under an avalanche of facts, that’s the first set, 0-6. 

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Second Set

The Commish started with a list of 25 issues facing tennis and it’s getting late and most people have either dropped off to sleep or decided to start a Netflix movie. So, the Commish with infinite wisdom will fast-track this essay to get you thinking.  

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Maybe the Commish is getting a little old but the world is going to “hell in a handbasket” by turning to the Metaverse. Just doesn’t seem like tennis, real live playing tennis in the real world fits this new direction. Speaking of the younger generation, perhaps they don’t need “to be like Mike” in seeking fame and fortune in sports.  They now have new role models like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Jack Dorsey.  No compelling reason to invest those 10,000 hours to perfect the perfect backhand when the payoff is not there. These kids are smart and they know the 300th best tennis player in the world is at best breaking even financially.  The 300th best computer engineer may work at the same firm he or she does, and they are both earning over six figures.

 

Speaking of money tennis used to be a public parks game and kids rose from those ranks and made an impact in the game. The game became a country club sport but now the kids that show up at tournaments are from wealthy families. So, tennis is now an elite sport -- have money have access.  

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Speaking of access, this consolidation in the industry seems to be doing few any good. Troon Golf buys Drysdale Tennis and now Burwash. The Commish knows quality tennis pros laid off after their facility was taken over by the giants in the name of cost-cutting. Throw in Lifetime Fitness, Club Corp and Genesis and tennis will soon be owned by four companies. These changes can lead to inequity, greed, poor governance, and exclusion.

In summary, the Commish knows tennis will never be the same it once was. Everything changes. But the USTA doesn’t own tennis, it only acts like it does. It wasn’t responsible for the boom, only hastened its demise.  But hey, life is good. We have Amazon at our beck and call. Multiple entertainment subscriptions under 13 bucks. Door Dash when we’re hungry, Hello Fresh so we don’t have to cook. Pandora and YouTube for free. Tick Tok, Alexa & Siri. Lift if we don’t want to drive, and autonomous driving cars if we don’t want to steer. Remote work and Zoom everything. And yes, we have screens, lots of screens. Tennis, I’m not sure I recognize you anymore and the sad part is, maybe nobody cares. 

Better news next month,

The Commish

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